A Sculptural Book Coming Alive (Performance review of "Tree of Codes" @ New Vision Arts Festival)

13 Nov 2018 | Ashley

There we go, the New Vision Arts Festival is back! One of its opening shows this year is Tree of Codes, a ballet performance performed by Company Wayne McGregor and guests. It was a multi-media performance, which incorporated not only dance, but visual arts, music and lights.

Display @ Hong Kong Cultural Centre

In fact, the name of the show, Tree of Codes, is borrowed from a sculptural book by Jonathan Safran Foer, where he cut off words from the original book Street of Crocodiles by Bruno Schulz and constructed another story. The show did a good job creating the illusion of layering, just as how Foer's book looks like. With colourful filters which separated the stage into a front section and a back section, and dancers moving behind and in front, mirroring one another a uniform choreography, it gave me the illusion that the dancers at the back were reflections of the ones in front. The bright colors chosen for the filters also gave this piece of ballet a modern and refreshing look. It was a sort of playfulness which classical ballet would not normally incorporate.

Tree of Codes by Jonathan Safran Foer, exhibition display @ Hong Kong Cultural Centre

In terms of choreography, there was definitely more flexibility in body movements compared to classical ballet. The dancers were able to engage in more angles of the body, which I find modern. I see them as a group without a protagonist, unlike most dance pieces with a story. I guess this time, the book served more as a visual inspiration than as a narrative. Costume-wise, they were all wearing skin-colored costumes, which from afar, one could imagine as naked. This helped unify them as one, and achieved a gender neutral representation. A male and male couple dance also defied traditional boundaries of male and female pairing. I felt that both genders in the show were able to take on active and powerful roles as they all appeared genderless, each with their own strength.

Exhibition display @ Hong Kong Cultural Centre

An elevating moment would be when two circular filters detached themselves from the original big filter. As they spun around slowly, I was amazed by the purple which tinted the back of the circle, in contrast to the blue in front. Lights reflected, as if of magic, against the spinning circles onto the walls of the hall. It was a visual breakthrough. In a way, it drew the audience in and invited them to dance as one. If you are familiar with the visual artist, Olafur Eliasson, who contributed to the visual concept of this show, you might find a connection between these two illuminating circles with his work, The Weather Project at Tate Modern in 2003 when he projected a circular mass of orange light symbolizing the sun. He definitely did his own thing again!

Banner outside of Hong Kong Cultural Centre

Visually, this was an intriguing piece. The technique of these dancers was insurmountable. However, I did feel lost sometimes in the lack of storyline. I am not sure if the visuals could hold one's attention for 1 hour 15 minutes. Perhaps there was a story behind all these which I do not know of. Nonetheless, it definitely showed me an alternative presentation of ballet which might appeal to the general audience who are not fans of classical ballet!


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